The “Malaise Era” is commonly defined as the decade from 1973 to 1983, when it almost seems as if American manufacturers gave up.
Well, that’s what Jalopnik says, and who am I to disagree? And for me, it doesn’t get much more Malaise Era than the Citation. It was a compact car marketed by Chevrolet for model years 1980–1985 in two-door coupe, three-door hatchback, and five-door hatchback bodystyles. Introduced in April 1979 for model year 1980, the Citation superseded the Chevrolet Nova.
At its debut, it seemed to be well received. Motor Trend voted it “1980 Car of the Year”. The Car and Driver website lists as a “Dishonorable Mention:”
When GM’s front-drive compact X-cars—the Chevrolet Citation, the Buick Skylark, the Oldsmobile Omega, and the Pontiac Phoenix—went into production in April 1979, everything seemed foolproof. The X-car was front-drive, the two available engines were old-school pushrod designs, and the interior was Detroit chic with flat seats and plastic door panels. At the time, it seemed like a breakthrough—finally, an American-made Honda Accord.
Things started going terribly wrong as soon as the X-car got into the hands of consumers. While staring down 60-month payment books, Citation owners were having trim bits fall off in their hands, hearing their transmissions groan and seize, and finding that if they listened closely enough they could hear their cars rust. At times it seemed the suspension in some X-cars wasn’t even bolted in correctly, as the ride motions grew funkier and funkier while the steering developed an oceanic on-center dead spot.
As GM’s first front-drive compacts, the X-cars were significant vehicles: They slaughtered GM’s reputation for a whole generation.
But what if you really wanted a Citation, but the beige over brown rust bucket version wasn’t your cup of tea? Well, say “Hello” to the Citation X-11!
The 1981 to 1985 Citation X-11 models had legitimate performance upgrades such as a 2-bbl 2.8 V6 LH7 High Output engine, including Tuned High-Flo Exhaust with Dual-Tipped Muffler, F41 sport suspension, rear spoiler, special axle ratios, special full instrumentation with a 7000 rpm tach, front and back stabilizer bars, 14" specific alloy wheels with the word “Citation” cast in, Goodyear Eagle GT P215/60 R14 radial tires, functional fiberglass cowl induction hood with “High Output V6" logo and also on the air filter housing on the 81–84 X-11 models, dual sport mirrors, “strobe” style X-11 graphics on the lower side doors and rear spoiler, standard 4-speed overdrive manual or the optional 3-speed automatic, both with special gearing. The 1985 Citation X-11 had a MPFI version of the 2.8 L V6 LB6 and a nonfunctional fiberglass cowl induction with 2.8 F.I. Multiport Logo.
None of that turned the Citation into sports car, but I suppose the X-11 made the Malaise Era a little bit less, well miserable. At least until the inevitable rust set in. About 1.6 million Citations are made, though the survival is quite low, or so I’m told.
The two models above are by Johnny Lightning.